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The Taliban are retaking Afghanistan. Here’s what it wants

In late July 2015, the Afghan government confirmed that Omar had died in April 2013 in Karachi, Pakistan.

How did the Taliban regain strength?

After being ousted, the Taliban scattered. Some leaders found sanctuary in Pakistan, where they began to fortify themselves with help from the Pakistani security establishment. In Afghanistan, the presence of US forces helped provide the Taliban with an anti-colonialist rallying cry for recruits. So did corruption in the Afghan government.

“For two decades now, the Taliban movement has been slowly chipping away, village by village,” said Robert Crews, an expert on Afghanistan at Stanford University. “It’s a very sophisticated kind of ground game of grass-roots mobilisation.”

Militants also replenished their ranks through a campaign of fear and violence. People who enlisted in police forces or the national army were assassinated. Public intellectuals, journalists, media figures and others who represent the young face of Afghanistan’s civil society were also targeted.

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Afghan troops, their ranks dogged by incompetence and corruption, have withered in the face of the Taliban incursion.

“People are asking, ‘Do I want to die for an administration that has not sent my unit ammunition? We’ve not been paid in months, we’re out of food. Now the Americans are gone’,” Crews said. “It seems kind of hopeless.”

How is the Taliban funded and armed?

The Taliban get funding from a variety of sources. Some money comes from the opium trade and drug dealing, or other crime such as smuggling. The group taxes and extorts farms and other businesses. Militants are sometimes involved in kidnapping for ransom.

The group also gets donations from a wide array of benefactors who support its cause or view it as a useful asset, experts said.

Passengers make their way to the Hamid Karzai international airport in Kabul on Saturday as Taliban forces advance towards the capital.

Passengers make their way to the Hamid Karzai international airport in Kabul on Saturday as Taliban forces advance towards the capital.Credit:AP

“It’s not really the case that they need a whole lot of money to operate,” Bokhari said. “They don’t live in big houses. They don’t wear fancy clothes. The biggest expense is salary and weapons and training.”

Arms are easy to come by in a region awash in them. Some are donated, others purchased. Many are stolen.

“As the Afghanistan national army has folded,” Crews said, “one of the first moves the Taliban has made in moving into new territory is to go to a government headquarters, arrest or kill those figures, open the prisons, and then go to the government bases and seize the weapons.”

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In some tribal areas, including in Pakistan, a “cottage industry” of foundries has sprung up where workers fashion assault-style rifles, according to Bokhari.

What is the Taliban’s goal?

The Taliban’s aim is simple, experts said: to take back what the group lost in the early 2000s.

“They want their Islamic emirate back in power,” Crews said. “They want their vision of Islamic law.”

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He continued: “They don’t want a parliament. They don’t want electoral politics. They have an emir and they have a council of mullahs, and that’s the vision they see as best for Islam.”

There does not seem to be a single leader of the Taliban, but the group seems to have several main leaders.

Whether life under Taliban rule will be the same as it was in the 1990s remains unclear. There’s little doubt that the group wants to confine women to their homes, end mixed-gender education and bring back a society with Islamic law at the centre.

But a civil society has burgeoned in the past two decades that didn’t exist before. Women have assumed public positions not just in Kabul but also in smaller cities. Mobile phones and social media are common. Experts questioned whether the Taliban would be able to govern a population that has changed.

“There are a lot of people who are better connected to the world through social media and say, ‘Hey, why can’t we have a life like that?’ ” said Crews. “What will they do with a society that believes in pluralism and doesn’t believe in monopolisation of power? To what extent will Taliban violence silence those voices?”

The Washington Post

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